Curator Simon Webb tells us about the museum's history

Interview: Museum of Computing

The technology industry is forever looking to the future, permanently preoccupied with the next big thing to such an extent that it can be easy to forget the lineage that got us here in the first place.

There are some hoarding the secrets of past though – one such organisation being the Museum of Computing in Swindon. The museum is dedicated to the history of computers and digital development, and was the first physical museum of its kind in the UK.

It opened in 2003, having initially been conceived by Jeremy Holt, a Swindon solicitor specialising in IT law some ten years earlier. While he was getting together support for the project, curator Simon Webb began putting the collection together.

“When the University of Bath in Swindon offered us premises, Jeremy was delighted, and my wife Linda was thrilled at getting most of our house back,” says Webb.

“We aim to educate and enlighten people about the history of one of the most important inventions ever. We also make sure that people have a lot of fun. The museum is a not-for-profit organisation run entirely by volunteers, we get no Government or local authority funding.”

The museum is split into five zones. ‘Digital Dinosaurs’ starts at Charles Babbage and the Difference Engine, the code breaking of Colossus during WWII and goes on to trace the development of the mini computer.

‘Work and Play’ looks at the emergence of the personal computer, which Webb claims is the section where most grown men go misty-eyed. ‘Computing on the Move’ charts the history of the mobile computer, ‘Calculator’ covers mechanical and electronic calculators, and ‘Pong to Playstation’ provides a history of video gaming.

Webb believes in such a fast moving industry, its more important than ever to record our computing heritage. “There are few areas where technology has moved so fast. We are in danger of losing sight of where we came from – a school pupil visiting may never have seen a slide rule! There are always lessons to be learned. One of my favourite exhibits is the Osborne 1, one of the first affordable portable business computers. A wonderful machine but when the company announced a new improved version, sales of the Osborne 1 stopped and the company folded.”

Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. It’s a mantra that’s been flying around in financial circles since then beginning of the recession, and perhaps one that can be attributed to the IT sector as well. And it’s always good to take a trip down memory lane.

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